Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
TREES are an important part of our life. They give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They also provide us with the materials for tools and shelter. Today, their value continues to increase and more benefits of trees are being discovered as their role expands to satisfy the needs created by modern life styles.
Trees also help rain precipitation through releasing water into the atmosphere through a process called evapo-transpiration.
Senior government leaders from nearly 200 countries recently attended a two-week long conference in France on the world’s deteriorating climatic conditions.
One of the factors discussed in depth at the United Nations Paris Climate Conference 2015 was the use of fossil fuel, that is, natural fuel such as coal or gas formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms including trees.
A major characteristic of fossil fuel is high carbon dioxide content in its emissions. Although carbon dioxide is not good for human life, it is essential for green plant as they use it in the process called photosynthesis during which they utilise sunlight energy to synthesise carbohydrates from it (carbon dioxide) and water.
Green plants are good for animal respiration during sunlight time in that they reduce the content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
That is an aspect we should bear in mind when we talk about tree-planting and conservation.
Every year, on December 1, Zimbabwe observes its National Tree Planting Day. It is a very exciting occasion to many people, especially, in urban and peri-urban areas where there are fewer trees than in some rural areas where certain trees are regarded as a nuisance.
Planting of trees is much easier and more enjoyable during the rainy season because watering the planted seeds or the transplanted seedlings may not be necessary.
If it is at all necessary, it may be minimal. Seedlings can be collected in the bush as they germinate in the wild, and can be transplanted into properly prepared holes.
People living in the rural areas who wish to beautify their homes with trees such as umphafa (ntjetjeni) or who wish to plant a variety of wild fruit trees, can much more easily do so during this season than at any other time of the year.
The mphafa (ntjetjeni) is most suitable for the ornamental lining of roads or even homesteads. It is, however, unsuitable for any other purpose. The advantage of the mphafa tree is that it is very green and not deciduous.
Bulawayo residents interested in tree conservation will have noticed the beauty created by that tree along Victoria Falls Road from the Amakhosi Cultural Theatre turn-off up to about the West Park crematorium, a part lined on both sides by that tree whose seeds are a favourite food of the go-away birds (funye, imiguwe).
Trees that are indigenous to this area are easier to plant and tend than foreign trees for obvious reasons. Those trees include iminyela, amaganu and mibvumila.
Iminyela is probably the easiest species to plant as twigs thrust into the ground very quickly develop roots.
Some people plant iminyela round their homesteads, some use the trees as fence standards.
People who wish to create ornamental tree – plantations, would be well advised to plant iminyela (mikunhu). However, those who want trees primarily for their fruits had better deal with amaganu (marula or mipfula).
The ripe fruits of these trees produce a delicious wine (nkumbi) which can be consumed fresh or after it has been fermented. Marula wine is a well-known Zimbabwean table wine. In Swaziland, it is a very popular beverage, especially among those given to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, that is to say the bibulous.
Amaganu are also used for the manufacture of traditional stools and wooden pillows as well as troughs for feeding pigs.
Some traditional herbalists use a boiled solution of the soft part of the bark of amaganhu/mipfula for enema medical purposes (ukuphozisa/kuhama). They cool down the boiled solution and then use an enema syringe to introduce it into the patient’s lower respiratory tract through the rectum.
Dry amaganu fruits are cracked to extract nuts that are either eaten raw or are carefully crushed into a paste (dobi/dovi) that is mixed with vegetables or shredded biltong to make a very delicious relish dish.
People living in regions where amaganu/ mipfula abound can commercilise these nuts just as some have done so with the amaganu wine. It is possible to produce oil from the marula/mpfula nuts (homu/inkelo) for commercial purposes as is the case with peanuts.
Cracking of dry marula stones (ukugula inkelo/pfula homu) is a highly respectable old women’s activity among the BaKalanga. It can be turned into an industry quite easily, leading to the planting of more marula trees in the rural areas.
That is one of the economic activities some headmen and chiefs can promote in their respective areas, and in that way generate employment for some of their people.
Mibvumila appear to belong to the same species as marula/ amaganhu/ mipfula. However, that may just be an appearance and nothing more. It would require a botanist to say whether or not they belong to a different species, genius, family, order, class and phylum.
Mibvumila can be planted relatively easily during the rainy season but, of course, less easily than iminyela/mikunhu. They are useful in the timber industry and also their inner bark is used as a cough remedy.
The author of this article is, however, not aware whether the bark’s fibre which the patient chews has an expectorant or a suppressant effect on the cough. But that it has a curative effect is true.
Maphani trees are easy to tend as they are hardy and grow very fast in the rainy season. They also propagate very quickly and, like the nsunsu (mangwe), an area with maphani trees turns into a forest in five years if undisturbed by either harvesting or veld fires.
Talking about forest brings us to a statistic that is of much interest to the whole world, but mainly to conservationists. It is that only about one fifth of the earth’s forest cover has been in existence for not more than 8,000 years. Two thirds of those forests are more or less unfragmented, and are found mostly in Russia, Canada and Brazil. A few are in equatorial and tropical African and Asian regions.
Zimbabwe can and should create mipani forests in the uninhabited low veld, from which it can later harvest poles for construction of houses and farm fences.
Maphani trees are deciduous, a somewhat compensating feature in that the dry leaves of that hardy tree are a good livestock feed as they are very nutritious. They are liked by cattle and other animals of the bovine family. The compensatory aspect of that feature is in the fact that grass does not grow well, if at all, where maphani trees abound. That is why communities that have large herds of cattle keep them in ecological localities where maphani and misusu (imangwe) are not predominant.
This has to be taken into consideration when planning large-scale tree plantations. As a general rule, grass cannot grow well under big trees because of the phototropic factor as well as the deprivation of moisture in the form of dew which falls on the trees instead of the grass.
About the writer: Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo – based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: [email protected]